Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Emotional intelligence is over-rated

I'm talking about the book. I just completed my second attempt to finish it. Now, I remember why I stopped reading it back in 2002. How in the hell did this book get so popular?

Daniel Goleman's painful writing immediately hijacked my brain, making it difficult to focus on his message. My problem is not with his premise, but the way he makes his case. He employs all the usual pseudo-scientific methods. He starts each chapter with an anectdotal story as if it is data. He then proceeds to bury you with snippets of information from various official-sounding reports. Like a high school student, he seems to think the size of his bibliography gives him credibility. Worst of all are his blantant scare mongering tactics. In one case, he seems to be cherry picking data to further that cause.

In his over-the-top attempts to convince the reader that today's boys are dangerous thugs and today's girls are sluts, he cites data from the CDC showing a steady 5-year increase in the birth rate amongst 10-13 year old girls. It just so happened that as I was reading Goleman's book, I came across a blog citing CDC data on 15-17 year old pregnancies. It paints a completely different picture about teen pregnancy and sexual promiscuity. I have a hard time believing that Goleman wasn't aware of the contradictory data. I think he selectively chose "birth rate" and the 10-13 age group to bolster his point. Again, I discovered this by accident, so I'd be surprised if there aren't numerous instances like this.

Goleman also irritates me with his derisive attitude toward the shy, the withdrawn, and the pessimistic...traits that he says aren't associated with emotional intelligence. He claims that outgoing optimists have the emotionally intelligent trait of being able to quickly recover from life's setbacks, whereas the introverted pessimist would dwell on them.

As an introverted pessimist, I'd argue that a lot of life's setbacks, for both optimists and pessimists, are caused by over-zealous optimists. Because these optimists don't dwell on their failures, they don't learn from them, and they charge forward, only to fail again. I'm thinking specifically about our financial markets, but the dynamics are the same for the Iraq War or the gulf oil spill. In all cases, there were pessimists who weren't comfortable with the risks, but as usual, the optimists won out. Pity about the outcomes, but no use dwelling on them.